Zed Koch is 9 years old, but he's already thinking like the seasoned pro he's aspiring to be.
A third-grader at Southside Elementary School in Morrison, Koch is making a name for himself in the world of BMX bicycle racing. He is ranked No. 1 in Illinois in his age group, No. 6 in the United States and No. 77 nationally, among all age divisions.
He has accumulated about 120 trophies in a little more than 2 years of competition, and most of them are gathering dust in a closet in the family's rural Morrison home. On Friday afternoon, his mother, Theresa, suggested he donate some of those trophies back to local race organizers, to be recycled.
"But they have to pay us money first," Zed said, without so much as a hint of smile.
Zed received his first BMX bicycle a little more than 2 years ago, as a Christmas gift from his parents, Rich and Theresa, and racing has since become his, and his family's, passion.
Every weekend, they head somewhere to find a race. There are tracks in East Moline, Rockford, Elgin, Peoria, Springfield and Elkhorn, Wisconsin, that they travel to the most.
About once a month, however, they head to bigger, national events. They were in Louisiana last weekend, and they have also ventured to Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, Indiana and Iowa.
On Wednesdays, he practices on the public BMX track at Searles Park in Rockford, to prepare for the weekend's race. He receives racing tips from more experienced riders during those sessions.
A standard BMX race is essentially a 1,000-foot sprint on a specially prepared dirt track, with some moguls and turns thrown in. It usually lasts about 40 seconds. Depending on the number of entrants, a series of eight-racer heats are contested, with the top two in each heat moving on, until finally the field is whittled down to the final eight.
The key part of the race is out of the starting gate, when the racers jockey for position. There is no cutting off fellow competitors in the first 30 feet of the race, when they are required to stay in their lanes. It's then a mad sprint to the first turn, usually about 100 feet into the course.
A racer wants to be in the lead, or at least close to the lead, heading into the first turn, then pedal away as fast as he can the rest of the way.
"If you're on the outside, you want to try to come over to the inside, and make the other people hit their brakes so that you're the first one in the corner," Zed said.
When Zed isn't among the leaders heading into the corner, however, he does what he can to achieve that position. Sometimes, things can get interesting.
"If you just knock somebody off, then they disqualify you," he said. "Sometimes I go so hard, I think I'm going to get kicked out."
"We always say to him, 'Shut him down,'" Theresa said. "You try to pinch somebody off and shut him down, but if you're up front, that doesn't happen to you."
The Kochs are lucky in that a lot of Zed's expenses are covered by sponsors. He has two bikes, one with 20-inch wheels and one with 24-inch wheels, that he races each weekend. Each are worth about $2,500 and supplied by the team he competes for, SSquared Bicycle Company of Florida.
Another sponsor, Answer BMX Products, provides parts. He also has a clothing deal with Troy Lee Designs, which also provides helmets and safety equipment. The Kochs are responsible for their own travel and lodging expenses.
"It's almost like paying for a college education," Theresa Koch said. "It's definitely very expensive, but we make it all work out. It's just something that we all really enjoy."
Down the road, Zed hopes to race professionally, and compete in the Olympics. It became an official medal sport at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, China.
"I want to get a gold medal," Zed said.
Zed Koch file
Parents: Rich and Theresa Koch, Morrison
School: Third-grader at Southside Elementary School, Morrison
FYI: Nationally ranked BMX bicycle racer. ... Aspires to compete professionally and in Olympic Games